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5 Real Life Detectives Who Put Sherlock Holmes to Shame

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We all love a good crime story that has a brave detective solving what seems to be an unsolvable mystery. But for some real-life detectives, they’ve actually lived these stories, solving some of the biggest cases of their time. Here we introduce to you five famous real detectives who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes with their brilliant tactics and innovative work. While some of their ethics are questionable today, their cutting-edge work is still well-regarded.

Ellis Parker

Ellis Parker was called “America’s Sherlock Holmes” or “The Sly Fox” for his brilliant detective work. He was so well respected he would often receive letters from professional lawmen asking for advice on how to catch criminals. He consulted on so many cases that he became a renowned detective with many stories written about the crimes he solved. One of his most famous cases has been called “the crime of the century” because of how much media coverage and the publicity resulted from the kidnapping of American hero Charles Lindbergh’s baby. The case resulted in the U.S. congress even making kidnapping a federal crime once the baby crossed state lines. His second most famous case was the “Case of the Pickled Corpse,” that is still known today for its early forensics work and scrupulous detective work.

Izzy Einstein And Moe Smith

These two famous New York detectives were known as the “Premier Booze Detectives” during Prohibition. They gained a reputation for creating disguises that allowed them to hide in plain sight in some of the best undercover work. Their elaborate cover stories ranged from posing as beauty contestant judges to opera singers. Their recipe for catching criminals was a mix of pure genius, along with a vast knowledge of foreign languages and an in-depth understanding of how things operated in the New York City underworld. Over their career they managed to arrest over 4,000 criminals and confiscate approximately five million bottles of illegal booze throughout New York, making them the true premiere Prohibition detectives of their time. Although some critics disagreed with their showy ways of chasing fame and frequent newspaper headlines; as well as their apparent hypocrisy when it came to illegal booze. In fact, some report they would often order and enjoy a drink themselves before making an arrest.

Raymond Schindler

Raymond Schindler, head of the Schindler National Detective Agency in New York, was known all across the country as one of the leading private eyes in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Having answered a job description to be a historical researcher early in his career, he soon found himself on a case investigating political figures of high rank with the San Francisco Police Department. While this may have sparked Schindler’s taste for detective work, many of his brilliant skills were formed later when he met Secret Service Agent William J. Burns who mentored him and opened the door for him to work at the Agency. He is best known for being one of the first detectives to use the dictograph – a recording device that was the latest technology in those days. He was a rich detective who was known to celebrate his own fame and fortune. He loved parties, fine dining, and beautiful women – all very akin to the fictional character James Bond. His celebrity persona could not even be tarnished when he was never able to solve the high-profile murder of Sir Harry Oakes. He even had a biography movie showcasing his elaborate life.

Kate Warne

Known as the first female detective in the U.S., Kate Warne was a true detective legend. She worked on hundreds of cases for the Pinkerton agency in the 1850’s and was one of the best detectives at creating disguises to catch criminals. She was ahead of her time and not intimidated by the men who felt she was breaking with custom to try to pursue a career as a private eye in her time. But she made the case for herself eloquently, explaining that a woman would be able to enter places a man never could, making her the ideal undercover agent in those circumstances. In fact, she went on to do some of her best work during the American Civil War as a covert war intelligence-gathering operative, where she was able to penetrate into social circles and pull secrets from fellow women to help solve cases. In one particular case of embezzlement, she was able to gain the confidence of the wife of the main suspect, gaining key evidence that eventually led to the husband’s conviction. Her work set the bar for female detectives around the world.

John Edgar Hoover

As Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the early 1920s, J. Edgar Hoover helped to build the FBI to what it is today. In the early 1930’s, when gangsters were receiving worldwide publicity, Hoover capitalized on this publicity by detaining these gangsters–though he was equally well known to leave the Mafia alone. In fact, after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as more evidence of his abuse of power surfaced: He was said to have fired female investigators when he first joined the Bureau and to have collected damaging information on politicians. Nevertheless, Hoover is still well known as one of the most effective real-world detectives to date, having served six presidents through his career, and led counterintelligence, counterespionage, and counter-sabotage investigations through the Cold War and World War II to protect the U.S. He believed that the future of crime detection lay in scientific innovation and introduced advanced intelligence-gathering techniques that had never been seen before. Many of his practices are still used today, and he was also involved in developing the fingerprinting file that matched fingerprints to crime scenes.

Looking to become a private investigator? If you want to become a licensed private investigator talk to us at The Smith Investigation Agency – we have the online private investigator training courses you need to learn the rules, laws and guidelines to become the next real-life Sherlock Holmes.

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Founder of The Smith Investigation Agency in 2014, Whitney Joy Smith’s extensive background as a private investigator is matched only by her passion for the role. A graduate of several respected institutions, including Northwest Florida State College and George Brown College, her early years in life were spent between Canada and the United States. This education, along with her formative years as a private investigator in various agencies, informed much of her knowledge of private investigative laws, regulations, and operating standards in both countries.


The recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades, including the Consumers Choice Award, Best in Ottawa, and many others, Whitney takes pride in working closely with her ever-growing agency to raise the bar, maintain compliance, and meet the investigative needs of clients. Whitney is active in various membership and supporting roles, including the CPIRC, CBN, CAPI, Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and many others. Her experience-driven, thought-provoking articles have been featured in everything from Readers Digest to Business News Daily, and she strives to continually redefine standards for those in the private investigative and security fields. Learn more about Whitney and the team at The Smith Investigation Agency today.

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